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Lake County's Steve Kendley won't go away



On Aug. 10, Lake County Sheriff Jay Doyle terminated Detective Steve Kendley, who's suffered from a chronic wrist condition ever since he fell from a fence during a SWAT training mission in late 2009, tearing two ligaments. The sheriff's office concluded, according to Doyle's separation of employment letter to Kendley, that "no reasonable accommodations" could be made to overcome Kendley's physical limitations.

That may be entirely true, but considering the history between Doyle and Kendley, Kendley thinks not. Kendley faced off against Doyle in a heated sheriff's election in 2010. In February of this year, Kendley and four other current and former Lake County law enforcement officers filed a federal lawsuit against Doyle, alleging that Doyle and other colleagues retaliated against them for bringing forward evidence of wrongdoing within the department, ranging from a deputy's lies about serving as a U.S. Marine to several officers' involvement in a poaching group known as the "Coyote Club." That case remains open.

Last week, Kendley filed a grievance against Doyle, alleging that the Lake County Sheriff's Office, in the words of Kendley's attorney, Missoula's Rich Buley, "refuses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Meanwhile, Kendley suddenly finds himself with another post to pursue: Lake County justice of the peace. Earlier this month, Lake County Justice of the Peace Chuck Wall abruptly resigned amid sexual harassment complaints. He admitted in a statement to having said "some things that in hindsight were not becoming of a member of the judiciary." Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz—whom the University of Montana hired late last year to investigate a spate of alleged sexual assaults committed by students—took over on an interim basis.

Kendley hopes to succeed Barz. He'll be on the ballot in November. He doesn't have a law degree, but says, "I don't think it takes a diploma on the wall as much as it takes someone with a fair and honest heart. That's how you're going to get justice." He adds that when he got out of the law enforcement academy in 2005, "my badge was pretty shiny, and I believed absolutely that if a cop said it, that's the truth." After working in Lake County, he doesn't believe that anymore.

"I believe that honest police officers will love me being a judge," he says.

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